x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

After the amnesty, keep up the effort

The UAE amnesty should be followed by a continued programme to support people who turn themselves in afterward.

The two-month amnesty for undocumented residents is over. More than 61,000 people from different nationalities took advantage of the government initiative to clear their immigration status and return to their countries of origin without further penalty. That, by itself, is a benefit for the UAE.

There was, however, a notable drop in the number of people who took part in this amnesty. In the amnesty in 2007, about 340,000 illegal residents took advantage; more than 95,000 of them managed to legalise their status and stay in the country.

That was not an option this time. Authorities have said that all of the undocumented immigrants will be deported, and expatriates who took advantage of the amnesty and then attempted to return to the UAE to find new jobs have already been turned away.

Those undocumented residents who failed to come clean will now face tougher consequences. If apprehended, they will have to pay a fine - Dh100 per day for visa overstay - and will still be deported with a black mark on their record. As The National reported yesterday, more than 1,000 people have already been fined by the Ministry of Interior over residency violations since the amnesty ended.

There is little doubt that the ministry, after offering a relatively painless option for people to come clean, now means to pursue the issue. "No leniency will be tolerated to nab those who reside illegally and break the country's rules," said Maj Gen Nasser Al Menhali, from the federal naturalisation, residency and ports affairs department.

There are vital national interests at stake in dealing with this "shadow population" of undocumented residents, who are statistically more likely to be involved in the black-market economy and contribute to underground social ills.

At the same time, the undocumented ban be a vulnerable population, susceptible to exploitation by the unscrupulous and less likely to seek the help of the authorities when needed. Indeed, many people may have failed to take advantage of the amnesty simply out of fear.

Enforcement is necessary, but a continued programme offering support to people who turn themselves in would also be useful. Ultimately, embassies are responsible for repatriating their own citizens, but the UAE can make it as easy as possible to clear the backlog.